Japan was always at the top of our travel list – but Japan with a baby? We weren’t so sure. When we were plotting our next adventure, we’d often dismiss Japan since it is expensive, far away, and now with a baby? Would it just be too hard? Truth be told, there’s no ‘perfect’ time to visit a place and when the opportunity strikes, you should take it.
My grandfather is turning 90 and we wanted to go spend some time in France with him to celebrate. We had such a wonderful visit with him in France this past November, and it was so special to see him with Milo. I desperately wanted to visit again so he could see how Milo is growing.
Although France is nowhere close to Japan, the more we thought about the logistics of the trip, the more it made sense. We would fly from Boston to Tokyo, explore Japan and then fly from Osaka to Paris. Literally around the world. Kind of crazy, perhaps. But so worth it. (Here is a post with my tips on how to stay sane on a 14 hour flight with a baby.)
Japan was expensive, in the sense that it didn’t feel cheaper than Boston (and certainly didn’t feel like our trip to Southeast Asia), but it was manageable.
Milo was seven and eight months old on our trip, and to my surprise, our trip to Japan was both enjoyable and somewhat (dare I say) easy.
– everyone in Japan seems to love babies! It is a very family forward country and we felt that it was very easy to navigate with a little one. There were changing tables everywhere (many times in the men’s bathroom, too!) and you could even find free diapers and microwaves in some nurseries. When walking around big cities (Tokyo, Kyoto), you see babies everywhere. Many people use baby carriers, and once you start looking, you realize that there are many babies under layers of winter coats. Whenever Milo was fussy, no one seemed bothered and in fact, they were almost endeared by it. He got so much attention — people loved to say hi, smile, and ask us questions about him. It was so sweet and I couldn’t believe how eager most people were to help us. The big department stores even have strollers that you can borrow while you are visiting the store – so cool! Many stores have special priority elevators for people who are handicapped, pregnant, or with children.
– we used our stroller everyday and it was easy. There are lots of stairs in Tokyo, but manageable if you bring a small umbrella stroller that’s super light to carry and easy to collapse. There are plenty of elevators, but most of the time, Matt and I would carry the stroller up or down the stairs with Milo in it. We have this reasonably priced travel stroller and it’s super lightweight and portable. Many restaurants are tight and we couldn’t roll the stroller inside, so it’s important to have something that you can fold up. I rarely saw big strollers around the city, most people seemed to have a small stroller or just a baby carrier. In general, I love traveling with a stroller (and a baby carrier for occasional use) because it makes naptime easy on the go, and if you need to change the baby, etc. you have a clean place to do it.
– everything is so clean. There are baby changing stations all over the place (even in the train stations) and even little seats for your baby to sit in while you go to the bathroom or wash your hands. And don’t get me started on the self-cleaning toilets! There aren’t many trash cans on the street, but everyone is so respectful and you don’t see any litter. I found it helpful to bring small plastic bags to put dirty diapers, etc. so that we could hang on to and throw away once we found a trash can.
– we loved taking the train in Tokyo and Kyoto (and the high-speed Shinkasen train, more on that to come!) and I was expecting the platform and trains to be super chaotic and crowded, especially in Tokyo. I was so pleasantly surprised. There’s a process to everything, and everyone waits in line to get on the train. There are even priority lines for those with children, and no one seems to be in a rush. In fact, there are signs all over the place saying “do not rush”, which I am sure are meant so that people don’t fall etc. but I love the reminder to take your time. I was nervous that the train would be difficult to follow, especially since we don’t speak Japanese. It took us maybe 1-2 days to figure it out and then we were pros. Tokyo is massive, and the train system is really good. It’s helpful to have lots of small change when using the machine to buy tickets. (I should mention that we didn’t bring a carseat on this trip, so we opted to take the train most of the time.)
– no tipping necessary! In fact, it’s disrespectful to tip.
– english is widely available. We were nervous that we’d have a hard time navigating since we don’t speak Japanese. Most signs were also in English, especially in the train and in major cities. We love using Google Translate to help us decipher menus, etc. but we found that in general it wasn’t too difficult to get around without speaking Japanese. Of course, we brushed up on the basics like hello, thank you, etc. It’s nice (and courteous!) to be able to say at least a few things in the native language.
Have you been to Japan? What other tips would you add? xo